World Economics, Shanghai Style

Standard

 The sleep over is over.  The friends have gone home.  The kids are studying for their upcoming finals/midterms.  I actually have a chance to sit down and look at some news and do some writing.  It would be the perfect kind of day for spreading out with the Sunday Times and a pot of tea.  But wait,  I am in China.  My NY times is digital and my local newspaper leaves something to be desired.  I do have a pot of lemon ginger tea 🙂

Getting news in China is a funny hide and seek kind of experience.  As a foreigner I am allowed to have satellite TV but many of the available stations are in Chinese so I can’t understand them.  I am allowed to get a local newspaper, published in English, produced by the local government controlled media.  Chinese citizens are not allowed to do either of these things.  Access to the internet and radio is also highly regulated.  Many news and entertainment sites from the ‘west’ are blocked unless you have a VPN (see my post on VPN’s).   I am not sure if Chinese citizens are allowed to have a VPN or not.  I imagine that they probably are not allowed.  But even if they were they probably wouldn’t be very popular because   A.  They cost money (about $5 USD a month, equal to about 33 RMB  which is enough for a local to feed their family for a day or more)    B.  Most of the material they would gain access to is not in Chinese  and   C.  The Chinese work such incredibly long days (often 10 to 12 hours or more) six days a week that they don’t have time to sit and read extra news or surf the web.  I do know some Shanghianese who have lived abroad, speak English very well, and have kids in the international school.  Even they take a surreptitious route to getting a VPN.  The kids get VPNs from their friends, download them onto memory sticks, and bring them home to their Chinese parents.  That way there is no web link to a VPN purchase.  Technically VPN’s are not allowed for anyone but the government chooses to look the other way for foreigners.

I have found that my local (NY)  NPR station’s morning show lines up nicely with my dinner prep time so I stay connected to home that way.  The US government also provides some information/news stories if you sign up for them to send it directly to you.  That is how I came across the following story.  I have not seen anything about this factory in the local Chinese news.  The local paper is full of stories about bumper crops of corn and cabbage and about general world economics.  The news is incredibly censored here and what is not censored has been given a tight spin.  However, seeing this news has made me so much more aware of how packaged and ‘spun’ US news it too.  I think it is so important, for that reason, to speak/read as many languages as possible and NEVER rely on just one news source for your information.  Check and double check whenever possible.

Workers mass at Shanghai factory in latest unrest

By ELAINE KURTENBACH | AP news

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SHANGHAI (AP) — China is seeing a fresh upsurge in labor unrest as slowing demand for its exports in Europe and the U.S. hits manufacturers already juggling tight credit and weakening growth at home.

In one of the latest labor actions by restive young Chinese workers, hundreds of laid-off factory staff gathered Friday outside aShanghai factory of a Singaporean supplier to major consumer electronics companies such as Motorola and HP.

Some workers said they were beaten by police earlier during the protests — one showed bruises on his forehead.

Reports of recent strikes at factories and other major employers, especially in southern China, reflect increasing pressure on Chinese manufacturers already grappling with surging costs for labor and materials. The country’s manufacturing contracted in November for the first time in nearly three years, according to a survey released Thursday.

This week, Beijing began reversing its two-year effort to cool the world’s second-biggest economy as worries that slowdowns infactory production and property overshadow longer-term efforts to tame inflation and temper China’s excessive reliance on investment as a driver of growth.

In recent months, troubles with financing have stalked both the construction and manufacturingsectors, as factories and even the powerful Railway Ministry ran short of cash. Migrant workers often ended up with delayed or unpaid wages.

The 300-400 workers at the factory gate of Hi-P International in the eastern industrial suburbs of Shanghai said it was their third day of protesting over mass layoffs due to the company’s decision to relocate some manufacturing.

They said they were seeking more information, and improved terms for themselves.

“We all work for this company, and now if the company is going to move, they owe us an explanation. So we are waiting for a solution,” said Chang Yan, a woman in her mid-20s who like most of the others was wearing a blue factory jacket embossed with a red Hi-P logo.

The workers, who said they were from various regions outside Shanghai, also accused the factory of violating labor standards.

“Sometimes, they ask us to work 18 or 19 hours in a day. Sometimes the overtime is even longer than a normal 8-hour work day,” said Tao Yong, a worker in his mid-30s.

Police in vans and unmarked cars watched but did not intervene.

Company officials contacted by phone in Shanghai and Singapore refused comment on the protest. Shanghai city government and police also did not immediately respond to inquiries about the strike or the workers’ claims of injuries from scuffles with police.

Reflecting the tougher times for manufacturers, Hi-P International’s net profit margin plunged 80 percent from a year earlier in third quarter to 2.1 percent from 11.6 percent — mainly due to higher costs. Net profit in July-September fell 42 percent to 6.5 million Singapore dollars ($5.1 million) from a year earlier, according to its latest financial report.

The company, founded in 1980 as a tooling factory, said its third-quarter revenue rose 34 percent, but so did costs for materials and taxes.

The New York-based group China Labor Watch said Hi-P was shifting some of its production to the nearby city of Suzhou and had not paid the legally required amount of compensation to workers, who were laid off without notice.

According to its website, Hi-P International is a contract manufacturer for the wireless telecommunications, consumer electronics and computing and automotive industries, with two-dozen factories and about 18,000 employees.

Hi-P has factories in five other Chinese cities besides Shanghai and Suzhou. Motorola and other major electronics companies are among its customers.

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